Mauritanians upset with the way authorities are handling the latest census are taking to the streets in violent demonstrations.

By Bakari Guèye for Magharebia in Nouakchott – 03/10/11

The southern Mauritanian city of Kaedi erupted into violence late last month as young protesters from the “Don’t Touch My Nationality” movement clashed with security forces over the country’s census.

“The damage is enormous,” according to Hassan Baradji, a prominent Kaedi resident. “Public and private buildings such as the palace of justice, the head offices of the transport federation, the census office and the market have been ransacked and burned.”

The violence began in town along the Senegalese border on September 24th, with rioters saying they feared being treated as second class citizens as a result of the census. Kaedi’s Director of Security was dismissed from his post following the riots. Clashes were also later reported in Nouakchott, resulting in 56 arrests as of Friday (September 30th), according to AFP.

Police tried to restore calm in Kaedi by negotiating with the Don’t Touch My Nationality movement. Group co-ordinator Wane Abould Birane said that the movement was launched “following the wholesale rejection by the enrollment committees of a significant body of Mauritanian Negroes marginalized by an oppressive system which has always been ready to exclude the Mauritanian Negro”.

“The movement was launched on the social networks by young Negro-Mauritanian white-collar workers from various backgrounds,” he said. “The census committees have been humiliating Black African citizens, acting as judge and jury, even putting the nationality of a Bal, Fall, Traore or Sarr to the vote.”

The co-ordinator cited the example of one person who was asked to recite a particular verse from the Qur’an while “another had to prove his Mauritanian credentials by recognizing a key figure from presidential circles or by speaking in the Hassania language”.

Mauritanian Interior Minister Mohamed Ould Bolil met with leaders of the movement following the riots but the clashes continued to spread, reaching the town of Maghama, where one person was killed on September 27th.

The Mauritanian Parliament took up the issue at the opening of its September 25th session. “The biggest threat to national cohesion at this time is the census currently under way,” said National Assembly President Messaoud Ould Boulkheir. He urged authorities to review the census program while at the same time calling for citizens to “return to peace and dialogue in order to resolve all national problems”.

“The waves made by the current census are due to a manifest lack of information,” according to Senate President Bâ M’Baré. He said the census would involve all Mauritanians. “The operation to enroll all Mauritanians will take as long as it takes. No son of this country will be left at the roadside,” he added.

Mauritania’s main opposition party, the Rally of Democratic Forces (RFD), blamed the violence on “authorities’ repression of a demonstration”, adding that the party condemned “all forms of repression against peaceful demonstrations which are provided for in the Constitution”.

Source: Magharebia.